I am, on a good day, confident that humanity is going to survive the self-induced disaster that is human-caused climate change.
I am not so confident that the transition won’t reveal some ugly facts about Canada along the way.
For instance, would you believe me if I told you that the transition to fully-electric buses was already well underway, that they were a reliable and proven technology that moved hundreds of millions of people a year?
Well, they’re not moving many people around here. TransLink is, bless their hearts, just now trying out a tiny pilot project with four, count, ’em, four electric buses. They’re undergoing a year and a half trial. So maybe in early 2021, we might buy a few more. Maybe.
China has 421,000 electric buses on the road now.
Are those the best electric buses you could possibly have? Are they the most reliable, the fastest charging, the cleanest when it comes to battery production?
Probably not. But China’s going to learn a lot more about how to improve and upgrade and build better, cheaper, faster charging buses by having a massive fleet of them to practice with than we will with our piddly four buses.
The narrative around clean power and climate change for a long time has been that it doesn’t matter what wealthy nations like Germany, the U.S.A, Japan and Canada do, because China and India would just keep spewing greenhouse gases.
The implicit argument in this critique, often, was why bother to do anything in the west?
But the truth is, we’re going to be lapped.
The future is about clean energy. It’s about wind and solar, about battery storage (all of which have gotten dramatically cheaper in the last few years and all of which will keep getting cheaper for years to come) and about which countries can manage the transition the most efficiently.
Canada will probably not be one of those countries managing the transition well.
We should be in a good place! We have abundant resources of clean power already – there’s a reason Ontario, B.C. and Quebec all call their power companies “Hydro.”
And where we don’t have the ability to make hydro power, we have prairie and coastal wind, we have sunlight. We even have our own deposits of uranium and the Canadian Shield as a vast, geologically stable platform to build nuclear power plants on, if we choose to go in that direction.
But we also have oil. Canada is, in many ways, a petro state, just like Saudia Arabia and Venezuela and Russia. Considerably more democratic and less corrupt than those countries, yes. But the outsized influence of oil on our politics and our economy has major effects.
That’s why we are simultaneously seeing Ottawa hand out subsidies to buy new all-electric or hybrid cars, while the same federal government pushes through plans for a major oil pipeline expansion.
At least Alberta’s new United Conservative government is consistent. They’re fighting the carbon tax, doubling down on oil, and declaring permanent hostility to anyone suggesting that maybe cleaning up thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells is a bigger priority than selling another million barrels of crude.
Where will Canada be, in 20 years?
We’ll have pinned part of our hopes on a green future. We will likely have slashed the number of cars on our roads using internal combustion engines. We might have cut down on fossil fuel power plants.
But we’ll be climbing out from under a mountain of bad decisions, including investing more and more political capital and actual money in oil infrastructure. We’ll be tallying up the cost of cleaning up from decades of oil and gas drilling.
We’ll be wishing we’d picked a side, instead of straddling the fence.